This Dodge Power Wagon received a well-deserved second lease on life

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Jay Leno's Garage

The title of “first SUV” is almost as hotly contested as defining the first muscle car. We aren’t likely to settle that debate in this article, but let’s at least look at one of the early SUVs and just what something fitting that three-letter descriptor was back in the 1960s. This big green Dodge was recently a guest on Jay Leno’s Garage and is a great example of blending two functions: carrying people and gear while still maintaining off-road capability.

This particular truck is a 1966 Dodge Town Wagon Power Wagon and was given to Jay by a widow who wanted to see the restored to its former glory. It wasn’t Jay that undertook that task though. Instead, Jay passed on the gift to Steve Hofmann. Steve works for Jay and had been looking for a Power Wagon for some time, so he was happy to take on the project. Hofmann says the project is nearly finished, and it required more work than it might appear at first glance.

Parts are tough to find because, while the chassis is basically the same as a Dodge pickup of the era, there is a plethora of pieces that are unique to the Power Wagon, and they more or less got used up due to these SUVs’ heavy use. While the sheetmetal was in rough shape, Steve was able to restore most of the panels rather than replacing them. He says that is likely due to the more substantial material used in the construction.

Under the hood is a Dodge 318-cubic-inch V-8. This is the “LA” series of engines that were sized from 273 to 360 cubic inches and are generally unloved compared to other Mopar designs. No matter, because this truck needed to keep the design of the polyspheric cylinder heads in place. The four-wheel-drive is operated with manual hubs in the front, so it’s best to make sure you are in 4WD before it’s needed so you can keep your boots and the interior clean.

And what a simple interior it is. Just three rows of bench seats, with a spare tire settled in the middle. Amazingly, there is a dedicated Power Wagon enthusiast who makes a kit to redo the interior. Having the actual seats to recover is the hard part, as Steve points out. More often than not the trucks were passed down, and since the seats are held in place with wingnuts for easy removal, they were often pulled and tucked into a corner of the garage so the full utility of the van-like truck could be used, and those seats often seemed disappear without being reinstalled.

This Power Wagon didn’t disappear, however. Instead it now stands as a reminder to a time when an SUV was heavy on the utility vehicle part of that classification. This truck drives like a big, bulky, 7500-pound beast because that’s exactly what it is—and that is exactly what makes it great.

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